Jaguar’s V12 had been around since the 1950s and was widely acknowledged as one of motorsport’s greatest lumps when it broke Jaguar’s heart in 1993—but not before powering the Project CARS 2-bound Jaguar XJR-9 to victory at Le Mans, the World Sportscar Championship, and the Daytona 24 Hours …
One shift away from tragedy
The closing scene from the saga that was Jaguar’s XJR-9—six years in development in both the US and Europe—came down to a split-second decision by driver Jan Lammers. Sensing something amiss with his gearbox at the 1988 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Lammers, in his XJR-9 LM, paused mid-shift. His was the final Jaguar with a sniff at victory. For 21 hours he had fought a running battle with the Porsche 962C of Derek Bell, and those present still remember the trees shivering from the sheer ferocity of the noise as the Porsche and Jaguar rushed through the kink at Mulsanne flat through the night, side-by-side. Twenty-one hours into the race, and with the 962C of Bell, Hans Stuck, and Klaus Ludwig closing, Lammers eased his foot from the clutch, his fingers from the gear lever, and left the lump in fourth gear.
As it turned one, the gearbox on his XJR-9 LM had one more shift left in it, literally one shift away from tearing apart as it had on the John Watson, Boesel, Pescarolo XJR-9LM which had swallowed itself while leading some hours earlier.
Thirty years from Jaguar’s last Le Mans triumph, and with eight Porsches chasing, Lammers kept faith in his intuition and the gear-lever thrust firmly into fourth. Three hours now separated Lammers and Jaguar from ending a 30 year drought. Three hours and 100 seconds, the gap back to the chasing Porsches.
TWR and Group 44—when the Brits and the Yanks fought the Germans in France
The road back to victory at Le Mans was a long one for Jaguar. It had been a quarter of a century since that epic run of five wins in the ’50s when, in ’81, Tom Walkinshaw brought Jaguar into the European Touring Car Championship. Meanwhile, over in the US, an outfit named Group 44 were running their mid-engined XJR-5 with the Jaguar V12 that debuted in ’83 in the IMSA GTP Championship.
By ’85, both programs were showing great form, with the XJR-5 delivering a class win at Le Mans, and Walkinshaw’s TWR outfit the European Touring Car Championship.
With two programs on two separate continents, motorsport success for a company that had been privatized and floated on the stock market as recently as ’84 after years of mismanagement by the nationalized British Leyland Motor Corporation was a positive step toward reclaiming lost heritage and pedigree.
With the European Touring Car Championship in the bag, TWR was keen on getting Jaguar into the Group C World Sports Car Championship. Jaguar chairman Sir John Egan, when he evaluated the two race programs in the winter of ’85, came to the conclusion that Jaguar’s Le Mans dreams resided firmly with TWR and their purpose-built racer, the XJR-6.
Ex-Formula One designer Tony Southgate was lead designer on the project and brought with him the ground-effects black arts that he incorporated into the carbon-fibre monocoque of the XJR-6. The 6.2-litre 650hp V12, meanwhile, also had Formula One pedigree—it had been built by the engine specialists inherited from Coventry Climax when Jaguar had bought them out in ’63. Coventry Climax’s Walter Hassan had been charged with completing Jaguar’s V12 engine that’d first been conceived way back in ’54. The result was the series-produced 5.3-litre V12 that first saw life in the Jaguar E-Type of ’71, and continued, in a 6-litre offshoot, to be used all the way through ’97.
The XJR-6 was competitive in its debut season, winning the 1000km at Silverstone, but at Le Mans it was simply outclassed by the Rothman’s Porsche 962C of Derek Bell. Underpowered and overweight, TWR went back to the drawing board over the winter of ’86 and, for ’87, returned with the XJR-8 (the XJR-7 belonging to Group 44’s effort over at IMSA). The XJR-8 featured minor refinements and one really rather large one—an absolutely bestial 7-litre naturally aspirated V12 kicking out 730hp with all the glorious Technicolor sounds you’d expect.
It entered ten rounds of the World Sportscar Championship in ’87 and won eight. By season’s end, Jaguar were Constructor’s Champions, and the first four drivers in the standings were all Jaguar drivers, including World Champion Raul Boessel.
The two races that got away? A minor one at the Norisring, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The gearbox issue that would come to haunt Lammers in ‘88 deep-sixed Jaguar’s run in ’87 when victory had seemed a formality. The speed, though, was there, and through the winter, TWR worked on the reliability of the XJR-8, refining and fine-tuning Jaguar’s great Silk hope.
Over in the US, Group 44 was no longer capable of matching TWR’s efforts, and TWR was asked to send their new car, the XJR-9, to run the full IMSA season as well as the Group C World Sportscar Championship. It won on its debut at the Daytona 24 Hour. In the WSC, it fought a running battle against the Sauber Mercedes (also in Project CARS 2) of Jean-Louis Schlesser all season, but it was Brundle’s Jaguar that eventually prevailed. All of that, though, was background noise—Le Mans was what Jaguar wanted. They entered no less than five cars for the race in ’88, seeking to match Porsche who, with privateers and factory entries, always came with a full deck. Three Jaguars from the World Sportscar Championship were joined by two cars from the IMSA GTP Championship.
Eight hours into the race, the first Jaguar fell out with transmission failure. Ten hours later, the lead Jaguar faltered and died. And then came Lammers. One shift away from tragedy.
With his gear wedged into fourth, and Bell’s Porsche less than two minutes behind, Lammers kept pushing. Bogging down out of the tight turns and having to scoop-up off the gas down the Mulsanne, he kept at it, as hard as he could until he crossed the finish line with team-mates the Earl of Dumfries and rookie Andy Wallace cheering wildly from the pit-wall.
Thirty-one years of waiting had finally come to an end.
Only one other Jaguar XJR-9 finished, in fourth—the rest of the top 10 filled by Porsches. But that mattered little; Jaguar had finally returned to the very top of endurance racing.
The rise of the turbo means the decline of the V12 and Jaguar’s fortunes
For ’89, TWR replaced the V12 with a twin-turbo V6 from the MG Metro 6R4 rally Group B car that had been banned in ’87 from WRC (though it would find new life in rallycross that welcomed the Group B cars with open arms). TWR had bought the engine outright, but it proved uncompetitive in the XJR-10, and 11. For the XJR-12, TWR went back to the tried-and-tested V12 and, despite its thirst, they won Le Mans again 1990.
Rule changes to the WSC, once more, meant the XJR-12 was done in a year. The 3.5-litre engines became the new norm, with turbocharging banned, and that made the ex-Rover engine a non-starter. Instead Jaguar managed to secure a 3.5-litre Ford HB V8 Formula One lump that was powering Benetton in F1. Back at TWR, meanwhile, Tony Southgate was shifted sideways from the design team and replaced by a young designer named Ross Brawn whose area of expertise was downforce. The XJR-14 was Brawn’s first full-designed race car, and in one season, 1991, it cleaned up the Driver’s and Constructor’s in WSC. But come end of season, more rule changes saw Jaguar follow a long list of manufacturers out of the series; ten months later, the FIA World Sportscar Championship would vanish for good after 40 glorious years.
Jaguar, instead, focused its exclusive attention on the IMSA GTP series for 1992 with TWR’s reworked XJR-14. Meanwhile Ross Brawn said his farewells to Jaguar, leaving over the winter to join the recently hired German Michael Schumacher in Formula One at Benetton.
The XJR-14 TWR-Jaguar fought a valiant battle all-season long over in the US against Dan Gurney’s All American Racers’ Toyota Eagle MKIII, but it was no use; the F1-drived Jaguar couldn’t cope with the MKIII that developed over 10,000 pounds of downforce on the short, bumpy circuits that made up the majority of the IMSA tracks. As the season wore on, it became clear the XJR-14 had a flaw, too: its wheels could not handle the high-Gs that were seen on the high-downforce tracks at IMSA, resulting in two chassis-destroying accidents, at Lime Rock and Road America. They’d end the season in a disappointing third while the MKIII stormed to the championship and IMSA dominance winning 21 of the 27 races it entered between ’91 and ’93. By the time it was done, its dominance had killed the GTP series for good. So good that half-way through 1993, Jaguar pulled the plug on funding, and that was that—the last time anyone ever saw a Jaguar-badged XJR in sportscar racing. (The XJR-14 would, with a Mazda badge, become the base of the Mazda MXR-01 for the WSC in 1992, and, with TWR and Porsche—albeit heavily revised—the Le Mans-winning Porsche of ’96 and ’97.)
Through it all, the Jaguar V12 had proven itself to be one of the greatest racing engines ever built; two wins at Le Mans along with WSC domination had demonstrated its reliability, power, and drivability.
Pulling out of sportscar racing, though, wasn’t the only momentous thing to happen to Jaguar in ’93 because that was also the year the V12 would come back to break Jaguar’s heart.
But that’s a story best left for tomorrow when one more Jaguar in Project CARS 2 is revealed …
The Jaguar XJR-9 will come with Project CARS 2, released in late 2017 for the PlayStation®4 system, Xbox One, and PC